Australia must embrace clean energy quickly to meet the existential threat of climate change head on. Alongside a rapidly changing geopolitical and economic landscape, the end of coal-fired power stations and their reliable baseload power is accelerating. As these sites approach their end of life, what will they become? What about the places and communities surrounding them? 

Our vision is for these sites to become the new engine rooms of the future – unlocking new clean energy and productivity opportunities for their owners, local communities and the Australian economy. Achieving this vision is no small feat. We need visionary thinking, years ahead of closure. With the accelerated pace of change, this window of opportunity is closing fast. 

In Australia, over 20 coal power stations are on a ‘not if, but when’ timeline. As the International Energy Agency has said, “the transition towards net-zero emissions will lead to an overall increase in energy sector jobs.” We can replace and expand job losses in the fossil fuel industry with new opportunities. With the right planning in place, we can do this before coal plants go cold. 

Unlocking future value

As we move toward a net zero economy, the future value of these sites is often well beyond their current use as a centralised power generation asset. The new clean energy systems of the future will be virtual power plants of distributed renewable and storage assets. 

We are helping site owners through the initial planning stages, tackling uncertainty, and clarifying their purpose for businesses and communities. Together, we are transition planning toward a shared vision to reimagine future land use and catalyse productivity in a net zero world.

Our team has directly worked on some of the leading transformations worldwide. We bring decades of experience and lessons learned. Our clients leverage our knowledge base, foresight, and total design process to unlock the potential of their sites. Across our energy, planning, climate services, and finance and economic teams, we apply multi-layered thinking to help our clients find opportunities for graceful exits and explore dynamic futures. 

It is not enough to engage energy transition planning in the absence of business and economic, town planning or environmental analysis. It also not enough to decide on an economic concept for a site’s future in the absence of community engagement and employment opportunities. Almost every site will serve a mix of uses, not a single purpose future.

Every site holds unique challenges and possibilities, but there are common questions to be investigated to understand a location’s possibilities. Our approach avoids simply adding one idea on top of the other. It looks to test and future proof prospective site ecosystem combinations. 

Case studies

Some of the unique site transformations our teams are working on include the following:

Creating an energy, tourism and business hub: In NSW, we are working with our client Greenspot to transform the Wallerawang Power Station into a clean energy hub that also offers new zones for tourism, recreation, enterprise business, retail and residential potential.

The site’s enabling infrastructure, including water supply, transport networks, rail and high-voltage transition infrastructure, can be leveraged by various industries. Greenspot is also balancing the community and environmental impact by creating community opportunities at the Lake Wallace foreshore and recycling 95 per cent of the power station infrastructure. 

Designing a vibrant, connected city quarter: Battersea Power Station began as an industrial landmark in the thirties, but for years remained dormant. It’s now at the heart of one of central London’s largest regeneration projects, transforming an industrial brownfield site of more than 42 acres into a vibrant and connected new city quarter with over 19 acres of public space in used to live, work and relax.

Our architecture and urban design experts have created a new vision for the masterplan’s future phases – regenerating a previously inaccessible, industrial site into a welcoming and accessible new part of the city. The masterplan provides homes, jobs and leisure facilities alongside generous public realm, extensive non-car travel opportunities and a rich new habitat created around the restored Grade II listed Power Station.

The updated masterplan sets out a flexible framework for 3.5 million square foot of developable area and delivers an uplift of 25 per cent on the original future phases consent. As the development evolves, the masterplan can adapt to an ever-changing market with the flexibility to define land use at a later stage, whilst matching the quality of design and delivery demonstrated so far. 

Lessons learned: balancing economic, social and environmental value

While every site is unique, power stations share a legacy of excellent industrial infrastructure and community ecosystems. Tapping into these assets can create new precincts that can become 21st-century hubs for innovation across economic, social, and environmental contexts. Here are four lessons we have learned in the process: 

Ambitious plans equal favourable results: in the absence of an obvious path of transition for a precinct, it is tempting to take a quiet, careful approach toward the end of life for a power station. However, ambitious plans enable timely investment attraction and workforce transformation planning to retain and retrain local skilled workforces. This helps stakeholders, including government, investors and communities build a strong, positive connection during great uncertainty. 

Plan with the community: uncertainty is at the heart of such transformations for those who work in and around these precincts. The needs and desires of these local communities, and the leaders of the First Nations lands on which they reside, can be brought into the planning process for their region’s future. These local perspectives, with insights drawn from as deep as 60,000 years of history, can reveal new ways of thinking that can elevate the potential of everyone involved.

Elevate regional areas: as a nation, we need these regions to thrive and prosper in a net zero economy. We want Australia to have a more complex mix of business roles beyond the confines of cities. New jobs and businesses in remote areas are vital in elevating regional Australian life so that future generations do not have to escape to find opportunities to grow.

Take an evidence-based approach: offering evidence-based guidance toward alternative futures is in our DNA. Our unified approach delivers deep thinking across all aspects of what it takes to plan a vibrant regional community future. Across physical, cultural and economic perspectives, we can map out probable futures to help every site see where the greatest potential lies.

Government, industry and communities must embrace this once-in-a-century opportunity to create dynamic new precincts filled with new economic, social, cultural and environmental potential – for the people and communities they have connected with for generations.

The first step is the hardest. Having the support to know where to start can make all the difference. We can tackle the uncertainty and clarify what power stations need to do to find new purpose for these places and their communities.